Okanagan Lake and the Tale of Two Records

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Since mid-May, the Okanagan’s most popular news site has been running non-stop with one flood myth after another. I say “myth” because most stories are using mythical numbers.

The number fudging started on May 16th when the mayor of Kelowna went nuclear by warning the public that the lake cannot hold any more water because it’s at “full pool.” This is complete hogwash since the lake has a dam at the south end that regulates the flow of water to ensure “full pool” is exceeded every year.

The major drought of the 1930s forced the provincial government into regulating the flow out of the 100km long Okanagan Lake so that sufficient water would be available throughout the summer for users downstream. The minimum lake level regulators are tasked with achieving at high water is called “full pool.” Since forecasting the amount of freshet (misspelled as frechette by the grammatically challenged media) is difficult, assumptions are made in early spring based upon existing snowpack levels and a worst case scenario for precipitation.

Snowpacks were low over the winter, so the lake was allowed to rise more than would naturally be the case. Then the valley experienced the wettest Spring on record, so full pool was reached early.

And the water has kept on rising.

fullpool

The projected height was 343m above sea level, and interestingly enough, the Castanet news source claimed that this point would match the all-time record from 1948. Several times between May 20th and May 24th, Castanet continued to claim that the old record was 343 m above sea level.

Then suddenly — just as it became apparent that the lake would shatter the 343m mark — Castanet changed its story by moving the goal posts up to 343.28m, which is just above the new forecast high. The cynic inside of me says that they needed to increase the record so they could milk this story for another week, but maybe there’s a less conspiratory explanation out there. Maybe, but I have my doubts because both numbers are actually wrong.

The official data is posted online for anyone with an internet connection to view. That government data shows the 1948 level peaked at 2.838m. This is relative to the low water line, so you have to add 340.236m (as the real-time data explains). This brings the 1948 level to 343.074m. Therefore, the new record was set already, although we can’t be too confident with that figure either since this government document from 1993 lists the record as 343.13m (see page 16 of report) while this government document from 2000 states the record as 343.25m as per the following screen shot of page 36.

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So the government isn’t sure if the actual figure is 343.074m, 343.13m, or 343.25m while the media originally went with 343m only to change it to 343.28m once the first record was met.

Does anyone want to guess what the “real” record will be if the lake ever exceeds 343.28?

NB: You might be thinking that this is just a small town news outlet playing loose with the numbers, but national newspapers like the Globe and Mail are even worse!

UPDATE: The 2017 lake level peaked on June 11th at 343.27m above sea level.

Posted in Climate, Geography | 7 Comments

Speed Kills the Fake News Media

I was Googling something completely unrelated when I came across an article from 2016 that clashes with the government document upon which it’s based.

Here are the two conflicting headlines:

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So who’s right?

The media loves spreading the false narrative that speed kills, but also established is the government’s proclivity to spread misinformation. For example, they produced a media release still available on their website promising to increase the speed limit  three years ago, but it never happened. (I should really keep a copy of this government release on my dash just in case I ever get pulled over for speeding along that section of highway 97.)

Given the two contrasting headlines, it might be intuitive to assume the Globe and Mail holds the correct version of events, but as the Speed Kills your Pockebook video rightly points out, increasing the speed limit can actually reduce the number of accidents if the maximum speed is set too low to begin with.

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Here are the cold hard facts:

  • On seven sections, the rate of speed decreased and crashes decreased.
  • On 12 sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes decreased.
  • On seven sections, the rate of speed increased and crashes increased.
  • On the remaining seven sections, the data shows that the crash rate increased, despite motorists traveling slower than they did before the speed limits were increased.
  • In two of the sections with increased speeds and increased crashes, the government has since reduced the speed limits.

Assuming that resetting the two speed limits reversed the damage, only five of the remaining 31 sections (16%) experienced increased speeds and increased crashes.

To fairly assess the Globe and Mail article, three questions need to answered:

  1. Do faster speed limits correlate with more car crashes?
  2. Do faster speed limits correlate with more severe crashes?
  3. Do faster speed limits correlate with higher speeds?

The green areas of the above pie chart (39%) represent to highways where higher speeds correlate with more accidents. The remaining 61% show a direct correlation between higher speeds and fewer accidents.

Why raising the speed limits would reduce the average speeds in 42% of the roads raises a few questions about the quality of the data, or at least suggests that the speed changes were marginal.

But assuming the reduced average speeds were related to increased speed limits, and using the 31 highways were speed limits are remaining higher than before, the pie chart is repeated with the dark areas (61%) representing few accidents and the light areas (39%) representing fewer crashes.

Chalk up a win for the government headline for being the accurate headline. The media headline, by contrast, is meant to fuel the false narrative that higher speed limits not only correlate with higher accident rates, but cause more crashes to occur.

The virtue-signally Globe and Mail goes on to cherry-pick quotes to cement the headline into the reader’s mind. Chief among them is this nugget: “We got an 11 per cent, statistically significant increase in injury and fatal collisions following the implementation of the speed limit increase.”

This certainly puts forward the false narrative that raising the speed limit is a bad idea. Had they done the honest thing by completing the quote, the newspaper would have busted its own pet theory.

The data-driven government media release continues: “The UBC modelling is consistent with the 9% increase the province saw on all other British Columbian highways where the speed limits were not raised.

In other words, there’s very little difference between roads with increased speed limits and those without increased limits. The two percentage point difference is much smaller than the 11% given by the Globe and Mail, and likely not statistically significant. It could be because of bad weather during the year or it could be the fact that all the highways with increased limits were all in the south where the population is growing much faster.

Furthermore, it does not determine which of the 33 roads saw the increased fatality rates. My money is on the roads where the speed limits have been reduced.

Reading further into the government source shows that it just gets even worse for the Globe’s argument:

The one-year increase on B.C.’s highways is also consistent with the rising crash and fatality rates in places where speed limits have remained unchanged, as more people take to the road with lower gas prices and as distracted driving rates continue to climb. The United States, for example, saw a 14% increase in fatalities during the first six months of 2015. Oregon alone experienced a 59% spike during this period. Sweden – known for having some of the safest roads in the world – saw a 4% increase in the number of fatalities in 2014.

The media plays an important job in society by holding the government to account for its actions, but that’s no excuse to warp reality and produce fake news. All that does is undermine the media’s effectiveness when the government screws up for real.

Higher speed limits do correlate with higher speeds, but the correlation is not as significant as you’d expect with just 58% of roadways showing higher speeds afterwards while the remain 42% of roads saw decreased average speeds.

Research tells us that speed limits should be set at the 85th percentile of traffic. Since raising the speeds decreased the accident rates, most of the limits were set too low.

The fake news media concluded the opposite.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

British Columbia’s Confusing Political Make-Up

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When I tell my friends from outside British Columbia that an election took place this month featuring the NDP (New Democratic Party), the Liberals, and the Greens as the three main parties, I get bewildered stares. Even within the province, there’s some confusion.

The outside observer is left wondering how the three largest parties are left-wing when democracies don’t operate with a single wing.

I like to mystify my audience further by inserting the fact that the Conservatives was the most poplar political party in the province during the 2011 Federal Election. This statement leaves my audience perplexed, especially when I tell them that the BC Conservative Party won just 0.5% of the vote in the recent 2017 provincial election.

The obvious truth here is that the BC Liberals are not liberal as we generally understand it to mean in Canada today. That is to say, they are are not left of center.

But how did this happen?

Our journey begins back in 1952 when British Columbia experimented with electoral reform. The two main parties at the time, the Conservatives and the Liberals, joined forces by bringing in preferential balloting (similar to what Justin Trudeau was hoping for nationally, and likely for the same reason).

The object of this electoral reform was to keep the rising socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation  (CCF) out of power. The center-right conservatives assumed the Liberals would pick them as their second choice and the center-left Liberals were equally optimistic that they would get the center-right second choice votes.

It backfired big time as both parties were utterly decimated to 3rd and 4th party status. Meanwhile, the socially conservative British Columbia Social Credit League (afterwards referred to as Social Credit) was swept into power as they captured the lion’s share of the second place votes from among both the Liberals and Conservatives. The traditional parties didn’t count on voters playing games by chosing a 4th string party as the means of defeating the main rival across the political isle.

Social Credit only beat the CCF by a single seat, and thus formed a minority government since the Liberals and Conservatives also won seats. A new election occurred in 1953, at which point W.A.C. Bennett won a majority government for Social Credit.

Elections reverted back to the old system of winner take all in each riding/electoral district, and Social Credit ruled for most of the next four decades with the CCF — renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP) in the 1960s — as the only main alternative.

Because a First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system tends to produce two main moderate parties, the Liberals and Conservatives largely jumped ship over to the two main parties dominating the political landscape, but that all changed with the populist and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, Bill Vander Zalm, unintentionally destroyed Social Credit within three years of becoming Premier.

Populists are a somewhat newer brand of politician who believe that right or wrong is irrelevant in the traditional sense. What is most important is to tell voters what they want to hear and try to give voters what it is they really want, or at least think they want. In theory this sounds great, but the problem is that people want the world without having to have to pay for anything.

Populists are not far left or far right or even centrist. Rather, they are political chameleons who look at the direction of the wind, and then jump out in front of the crowd to become the movement’s leader.

“I cut across party lines. When I have town-hall meetings I have New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, I have Green Party members, Refederation Party people. They are all there.” – Bill Vander Zalm in an interview with the South Delta Leader in May of 2010

This quote comes more than two decades after Vander Zalm left office in disgrace as he was in the middle of sucking the people of British Columbia into eliminating the HST (harmonized sales tax). He never mentioned that fact that the replacement taxes would be less efficient or that the tax payers were going to give him a tax break on his luxury yacht moorage and golf green fees while they themselves would pay more tax for supplies on home repairs.

Bill Vander Zalm was instrumental in eliminating the HST. Similarly, his time in office was every bit destructive for the province.

At the beginning of his political career, “the Zalm” was a supporter of both the Liberal Party of Canada and the BC Liberal Party. He jumped at Trudeau Mania in 1968 when he ran as a federal Liberal in Surrey. He lost by 5,000 votes. He was also a candidate at the 1972 provincial Liberal leadership convention, where he lost to David Anderson. After joining the BC Social Credit Party in 1974, Vander Zalm was elected into government the following year, and then Premier in 1986.

Much like how the Liberals and Conservative tried in vain to rig the election in their favour in the 1950s, everything Vander Zalm ever tried to manipulate backfired.

He tried to destroy the teacher’s unions by forcing them to chose between province-wide unionization as the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) or forming an association. As much as many teachers didn’t like the idea of the BCTF, they voted for it anyway because the alternative was worse. The legacy of Vander Zalm’s manipulation has led to decades of political unrest with the teachers and the single most negative and destructive influence on public education in British Columbia’s history.

Vander Zalm also introduced the Property Purchasers Tax (without consultation) that has contributed to making housing in British Columbia the most expensive in Canada.

A third disaster he brought it was run-of-the-river projects that were touted as “low cost and green,” but were neither.

His final undoing arose when it was discovered that he used tax payer’s money to sell his multi-million dollar Fantasy Gardens.

The height of Social Credit was a political coalition of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and federal liberals who were united (in the words of W.A.C. Bennett) “to keep the socialist hordes behind the gates of Hell where they belong.” Bill Vander Zalm fractured the coalition with the above policies while pursuing the hot button issue of abortion (the one time he broke with populism), and  finally, to be caught in a conflict of interest.

During the 1991 election, most of Social Credit’s supporters were jumping ship as Bill Vander Zalm’s divisiveness in combination with the stellar debate performance from the Liberal Leader, Gordon Wilson, who — in a single phrase during the televised leader’s debate — took the party from obscurity to 2nd place behind the NDP.

“Here’s a classic example of why nothing ever gets done in the province of British Columbia,” he quipped as the NDP’s Mike Harcourt and Rita Johnson of Social Credit were exchanging barbs.

Suddenly, a left-of center party was supported by right-of-center voters as they piled over from Social Credit. Guess what happens.

A coup!

The opportune moment came just two years later in 1993 when Gordon Wilson was caught in an extramarital affair. Wilson lost the leadership of the party to the conservative Gordon Campbell. Wilson promptly left the Liberals to form a new party.

The NDP stayed in power for 10 years in British Columbia, and BC Liberals are still claiming the 1990s as the “lost decade.” The right has vowed to stay united, which is why you will often hear Christy Clark and other members of the Liberal Party today advertise themselves as the “free-enterprise coalition.”

So, BC Liberals = Social Credit = Federal Conservatives + right flank of the Federal Liberals.

That covers the history of the Liberals in BC, though it’s only scratching the surface of British Columbia politics. Outside observers are also wondering how the Greens are more than just a fringe party, but that’s a discussion for another day.

 

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What Women Want

Jordan Peterson explaining what women want.

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How to Fix the Housing Crisis in BC

PANTS-GUN-modified

It seems that every year there are fewer and fewer places to rent, and as everyone knows, decreased supply invariably means increased rents. This has an especially negative impact on those at the bottom 30% of the economic spectrum.

The latest stab at fixing the problem comes via the federal government as they promise to blow another 4 billion on housing over the next few years.

In addition to the money, governments and the public have been trying to coerce homeowners into renting out their places, but to no avail. Renting out your place incurs risk that many homeowners don’t want to take. Bad renters are rampant, the law is often against the landlord when things go sideways.

This stick approach will not solve the problem. All it does is kick the can down the road, and saddle the next generation with even more government debt.

If they want to solve the rental shortage in a real way, they need more carrot and less stick. That is say, find ways of providing benefits to the landlord without hurting renters. Here’s one idea: eliminate income tax on rental income, at least under a certain threshold.The last thing they need to do is increase the tax burden on Canadians looking at renting out their basements as the feds are keen to do now. This will only restrict supply either further. Make no mistake about it, any extra costs the government puts on landlords will be passed on to tenants in the long run.

At the very least, the government needs to bring back the incentives available 30 years ago that lead to the apartment housing boom in the first place. Affordable housing is driven by apartment buildings, and most of those in use today were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Many of these buildings are nearing the end of life, so the crunch will only get worse without real incentive to invest in housing.

Back in the 1980s rental apartments were shooting up like mushrooms because the federal government provided incentive to developers to expand the rental market, which in turn drove down prices for low income people. The old provisions of the Income Tax Act allowed investors (not real estate developers) to acquire (or build) qualifying rental units.

Under the program investors could take generous capital cost allowance losses of 10% per year, and apply these loses to other income that the investor had earned. From the government’s perspective, too many investors eventually became more interested in the tax breaks than actually maintaining housing for the most vulnerable in society.  As a result, the program was cut back over the years until being turfed entirely in 1988. But there’s no question the policy worked. Large swaths of housing projects were built, and even today most relatively affordable apartment buildings in use are surviving on the backs of this legacy.

This tax change was the federal level, but provincially, policy has not been much better. British Columbia has some of the most expensive rents in Canada thanks to Bill Vander Zalm, who created the Property Purchasers Tax.

In addition to going back to the 1980s, let’s try a new approach to increase the rental supply. Eliminate all sales taxes on house related services — contractors, roofers, painters, etc. as is the case with food. This in turn lowers the costs of operating housing.

And most significantly, bring back the generous CCA similar to that of the 1980s. History shows us that this would incentivize builders to favour rental apartments over the more expensive housing we see going up today.

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The Coldest Months in Canadian History

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Dawson, Yukon

As we close out the 70th winter since records began in the high arctic, I thought it would be interesting to count the number of very cold months, and further, determine the coldest of the lot. The map below shows all locations fortunate enough to achieve at least one month with an average mean temperature below-40 (Celsius or Fahrenheit, you choose).

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The two areas of Canada most prone to extremely cold months are the central Yukon and the high arctic in Nunavut. Most of the locations in the above map are one-offs. But not Eureka, Nunavut. It’s the grand winner, having recorded 37 different months with a mean average temperature below -40. The coldest month of all time was February 1979, with an average temperature of -47.9°C (-54.2°F).

The second coldest month ever recorded in Canada was way back in December of 1917 when Dawson, Yukon, recorded an average temperature of -46.3°C (-51.3°F). Since Eureka is further north than Canada’s northernmost settlement, the Dawson record is the coldest month at an inhabited place. In some respects this month was more impressive. Starting on the last day of November, the temperature dropped below -40, and never rose above that mark — even during the day — for 31 consecutive days.

Interestingly enough, the two coldest places in the Yukon — Dawson and Mayo — also enjoy the hottest summers in Canada’s westernmost territory. The same sort of trend occurs in Alaska where the places with the warmest summers also have the coldest winters.

Prior to 1947, Dawson recorded one other month below -40 (as did Mayo). Both have recorded 4 additional winter months below -40 since then, with the last one being January of 1982.

The only other location in North America to record more than 2 months below -40 over the past 70 years is Shepherd Bay, Nunavut, at 5 occurrences (the last time being February of 1990).

Shepherd Bay is located on a sheltered peninsula devoid of the Arctic Ocean’s moderating effect, and outside of Eureka and Dawson, has the coldest month on record. Like most places in Nunavut, the record was set in February of 1979, only in this case the mean average temperature was -44.4°C (-47.9°F).

The coldest January ever recorded in Canada was set in Dawson in 1966 at -43.4°C (-46.1°F). This was the beginning of a two-decade period of inordinately cold winter months (as evident from the graph below). The only other months colder than this Dawson reading are February of 1987 and February of 1984, both set in Eureka.

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At least in Dawson the spring and summer months can be nice and warm. And even those extremely cold winters are relatively infrequent, especially since the 1980s. By contrast, winter hangs on so long in the high arctic that Eureka has averaged as low as -42.2°C (-44.0°F) in March (set in 1977). It’s the only place in Canada to average below -40 in March, and has done so 7 times!

Summing up, Dawson holds the record for the coldest December and the coldest January while Eureka holds the record for the coldest February and the coldest March.

The coldest months might be comparable between the two, but one need only compare the picture of Dawson at the top to one of Eureka below to fully grasp who has the nicer climate on average.

So there you have it, the Yukon is not as cold as you’ve been led to believe! Or at least, not as cold as some places.

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Eureka, Nunavut

Coldest Months Ever Recorded in the Respective Jurisdictions:

  • Eureka, Nunavut [February 1979] = -47.9°C (-54.2°F)
  • Dawson, Yukon [December 1917] = -46.3°C (-51.3°F)
  • Fort Yukon, Alaska [December 1917] = -44.6°C (-48.3°F)*
  • Fort Good Hope, NWT [January 1966] = -42.5C (-44.5°F)
*The thermometer recording daily maximum temperatures at Fort Yukon in 1917 used mercury instead of alcohol, and since 26 of the 31 days did not rise above -38°F, the month’s temperature had to be estimated based upon the the daily lows recorded with alcohol and the normal difference between the maximum and minimum readings. Up river from Fort Yukon, Eagle was able to record the daily highs because it was using an alcohol thermometer. The monthly average was -43.3°C (-45.9°F).
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Why the Chilcotin Will Eventually be the Coldest Place in BC

munchoIt’s an interesting fact that since 1938, when weather records began in earnest in northern British Columbia, the coldest January each year has bounced around between nine different places.

Ranked by the number of occurrences, the lucky spots are:

  1. Fort Nelson: 50 times with a total of 80 years worth of data (63% of the time)
  2. Smith River: 11 of 25 years (44% of the time)
  3. Lower Post: 7 of 9 years (78% of the time)
  4. Coal River: 3 of 3 years (100% of the time)
  5. Germansen Landing: 3 of 61 years (5% of the time)
  6. Lower Liard Bridge: 2 of 3 years (67% of the time)
  7. Sierra: 2 of 5 years (40% of the time)
  8. Yoho National Park: 2 of 41 years (5% of the time)
  9. McBride River: 1 of 3 years (33% of the time)

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Coal River is the only location to be the coldest spot for all years within its record, but that’s less impressive when considering the fact that the station was in operation for just three years. Given the proximity to the Yukon border, Coal River would likely be rivaling Lower Post for the coldest winters in BC — though, Lower Post is probably the coldest place in the province, and holds the record for the coldest month ever recorded in BC (-37.5°C in 1969).

But these northern weather stations had all disappeared in the 1990s, which is why Fort Nelson had remained British Columbia’s coldest spot for 18 years in a row. Yoho National Park ended that streak in 2017.

Generally speaking, as you move north and east in British Columbia, the colder the winters, but there are microclimates that provide plenty of exceptions.  In much of the province, higher elevations have the warmest winters. That’s why the lowest point along the Alaska highway, Fort Nelson, has recorded BC’s coldest January 50 of the last 80 years while Tetsa River, 100km west and 300m higher than Fort Nelson, will never be the province’s cold spot.

Since the 1980s, the trend in Canada has been to centralize, and weather monitoring is no exception; most of the remote and northern weather stations have vanished. Of the nine stations capable of recording BC’s coldest January in the past, seven have disappeared, leaving Fort Nelson and Yoho National Park (located near Field) as the only cold spots left.

Moving into the future, the reduced number of weather stations in the north provides an opportunity for two new places to rise to the top: Dease Lake and the erroneously named Puntzi Mountain. Puntzi Mountain is exceptionally cold for its latitude during the winter months because it’s situated in a low spot on the Chilcotin Plateau, where the clear and windless nights allow cold air to sink and pool at the surface.

We need only look at 2017 to see the possibility in the years to come. Puntzi Mountain tied Fort Nelson for third place, and Yoho National Park edged out Dease Lake for top spot.

Additionally, Puntzi did not exist in 1950, but it’s almost certain to have been colder than both Fort Nelson and Dease Lake, but likely not as cold as the abandoned town of Smith River.

Comparing the coldest Chilcotin weather station each year to Fort Nelson reveals that January was equal in both 1950 and 2017. The Chilcotin point from 1950 represents the milder community of Kleena Kleene.

meanjantemperature

When you check back at this article in 100 years, you can call me out if I’m wrong, but just for fun, I will go out on a limb and predict that over the next century, the province’s coldest January will break down as follows:

  1. Fort Nelson = 90 times
  2. Yoho National Park = 4 times
  3. Dease Lake = 3 times
  4. Puntzi Mountain = 2 times
  5. Somewhere unexpected = 1 time
Posted in Climate | 2 Comments